Politics & Government
7:42 am
Mon June 16, 2014

NC General Assembly Stories We’re Following: Week Of Monday, June 16

Photo: The North Carolina Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh
Credit Jorge Valencia

North Carolina’s General Assembly leadership is expected to begin negotiations this week to reconcile two proposals for the state’s $21.1 billion budget, a legislation that touches many aspects of government, but has centered on how to give pay raises to public school teachers.

Leaders from the state Senate and House of Representatives will likely name a conference committee to reconcile the proposals each chamber has approved, said Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), an expected key budget negotiator. Leaders say they want to finalize a bill and get a proposal to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by June 30.

A prominent gulf between the Senate and House proposals is how much to raise salaries for public school teachers and how to pay for them. Under the House’s proposal, which was approved on a 77-35 vote Friday, teachers would get a raise ranging from 2 to 7 percent, and it would be paid for by an expected $106 million increase in revenue from the North Carolina Education Lottery. Under the Senate’s proposal, which was approved on a 32-10 vote on May 30, teachers would get an average 11 percent pay increase and the cost would be partially offset by cutting $233 million in teaching assistant positions in second- and third-grade classrooms.

There are other differences that budget negotiators will have to sort out. They include: The Senate’s plan to cut Medicaid eligibility for thousands of aged, blind and disabled people – a provision the House scrapped in its budget proposal - and the House’s plan to transfer the State Bureau of Investigation from the supervision of the state Attorney General to the office of the governor – a provision that was not included in the Senate’s proposal.

The spending plans have some of the most stark differences in budget proposals since a Republican majority took over both chambers in 2011. That year, the two proposals bore many similarities, according to News & Observer reports on the House and Senate's versions, and required nominal negotiations. The two chambers voted to override a veto on the budget from then-Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, making their proposal law.

While budget negotiations will dominate the attention of assembly leadership this week, lawmakers are expected to also take votes on bills related to contamination from coal ash ponds and to land contamination lawsuits near Asheville and Camp Lejeune.

How Will NC Handle The 33 Coal Ash Basins Across The State?

There’s some deja-vu from last week on this issue.

Senate leadership, including Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville), are expected to unveil a plan addressing contamination from coal ash ponds as early as today and as late as Wednesday. A proposal was expected last week, but it didn’t materialize.

Here’s what we reported in our look-ahead article last week.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling On Contamination Case

House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) says he wants to adjust a law that could prevent people at Camp Lejeune and Asheville from recovering damages from contaminated water, following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday.

The House’s bill was fast-tracked last week, and a similar effort is expected from the Senate. (The full text of the House bill is on the General Assembly's website.)

Here's more from the Associated Press on the case and the new bill:

The change is in response to Monday's Supreme Court ruling that a group of Asheville homeowners cannot sue a nearby electroplating business they blamed for contaminating their land because the contamination ended in the 1980s - even though they didn't learn of the pollution until 2009. A similar situation exists at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps base where the government says exposure to contaminated water ended in 1987.

On Wednesday, two days after the court's ruling involving electronics manufacturer CTS Corp., lawyers for President Barack Obama's administration asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit blaming contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune for birth defects, childhood cancers and other illnesses.

Lawmakers are hopeful the bill to clarify what's called the "statute of repose" could still give the people who lived with the contamination the ability to receive damages in court. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that said federal environmental laws should trump state law.

"We're hitting a reset button now that we understand how the federal courts are going to interpret state law," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson.

If the law is clarified, they said, courts could allow these two and other cases to proceed because there will be no time constraints on this kind of contamination litigation.

Rules For General Assembly Visitors (And ‘Moral Monday’ Protesters)

A Superior Court judge in Wake County says he’ll sign a temporary restraining order on rules a General Assembly commission passed for conduct in the building last month, including rules setting a rough decibel level for conversations and barring signs on sticks. If Superior Court Judge Carl Fox signs the restraining order today, the restraining order would be in effect tonight for expected Moral Monday demonstrators, who since last year have been protesting laws passed by Republican lawmakers. The restraining order, which is temporary, is in response to a suit the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed last week. A full trial likely will not take place until late fall.